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November 30, 2015

Communicators Can Help Leaders Lead Authentically


For leaders who are open, we can help them find their authentic voice and express it in their communications. 

This is as much about words as it is about actions, as we help them be more of who they are in how they communicate.

The first need is to help leaders understand the importance of authenticity

For many of the leaders we support, the first need is to help them understand the importance of authenticity, and how it builds trust.  “This isn’t about me,” many leaders will say.  True.  My response: It’s not about you in an egotistical way; it is about you to the extent that you’re demonstrating who you are, your values, and the higher purpose you serve. All of that will benefit your audience – the very people who are working to achieve your organizational goals.

Employees want a leader who is real and is aware of (and honest about) his or her strengths and weaknesses. They don’t want a leader who’s like a Hollywood movie set—well-packaged on the outside with nothing behind it on the inside.

The value of communication

I saw this play out recently in my work with John Greisch, CEO of Hill-Rom.  Greisch admitted to me that he used to "intensely dislike" public speaking.  Yet as his career progressed, he understood the value of communication and recognized he needed to be authentic and the one out front, regardless of how uncomfortable he may have been.  The tall, Telly Savalas-like CEO also needed to be cognizant of his large, possibly intimidating stature, and work hard to be as approachable as possible.

"Pushing me out of my comfort zone, while at the same time maintaining my personal style and credibility, has allowed me to constantly improve my effectiveness as a communicator," Greisch says.

His approach and constant hard work has paid off.  Greisch has received one of the top communication effectiveness scores by his employees recorded on the Internal Communication Climate Index.  The Index measures overall communication system health, including assessing the CEO and other senior leaders.  He received high marks for explaining the company’s Mission, Vision, Values, Strategies and Cultural Commitments, and for being an effective communicator. He is also recognized by employees for regularly sharing his perspective in his own blog (which he writes himself) and town halls, and bringing a sense of fun to the workplace.

Purposefully communicate what you value

Ron Childress, Vice President of FEP at Anthem, makes a point to send handwritten notes to employees who go the extra mile for members and teammates.  “I’m a competitive person and I want us to be the best so I’m always challenging the team to find ways to be even better,” he says.  “When I see people doing great things, I want them to know I notice it and appreciate them for making a difference.”

This is one of many ways Childress purposefully communicates what he values.  Not surprisingly, his organization’s employee engagement scores are the highest in the company and his Internal Communication Climate Index scores rank among the highest for any of the senior leaders measured.  Childress earned the highest marks for making sure employees know about changes, being trustworthy, and being open to feedback from employees.

Sincerely connect with your team to drive business results

Another leader I’ve worked with says one of the most critical things he’s learned in his career is the importance of sincerely connecting with his teams in order to drive business results. Rick Phillips, Vice President and Chief Communications Officer for Nationwide, didn’t always approach work this way. When he first became a new leader in his mid-20s, he was impressed by the sheer volume of things he was managing – complicated projects, important committees, budgets. Then a mentor of his told him this: “You’re not here to lead ‘things.’ You’re here to lead people. If you remember that, all the projects, budgets and activity will take care of itself.’” That one comment has become a guiding principle for Phillips, and it has worked wonders over the years. “Just as my mentor predicted,” he said, “the rest took care of itself and success followed.”

Critical to leading authentically is understanding the impact one has on others, along with addressing any issues that might get in the way of solid working relationships.  Another leader I’ve worked with found a way to connect with audiences and coworkers by getting a little out of her comfort zone. Terri Luckett, now Chief Financial Officer for Terminal Investments, Limited S.A., had a background with competitive, results-focused companies with tough cultures. She took a new role in a company with a softer, more creative culture. Initially, she found it hard to relate to her new colleagues, but then she followed some simple advice from a mentor: simply smile more. At first, she was offended. “I was a serious business woman,” Luckett says, “but since it came from a woman I respected, I tried.” Luckett said allowing herself to smile changed things. “People smiled back at me and began to relax with me,” she said. “Smiling at work quickly became more natural, and I actually began to feel happier and less stressed despite still being focused. Now I smile a lot, and the results keep coming.”

How much additional trust would you gain if you were more of your authentic self in the workplace?

-David Grossman

Click here to read the next post in my Authenticity series

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This post was originally published by David Grossman at

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